I’ve just watched this brilliant good talk by Richard Heinberg about the limits to economic growth.
He argues that the trio of rising oil prices, the global debt crisis and climate change means we’re right at the end of the growth age. He sees it as inevitable that our economy will change drastically over the next couple of decades. He doesn’t paint a steady state future as an ideal political choice like I often do – he says we’ll pretty much be forced into it. Well, he doesn’t use the term steady state actually, because that’s more specific. A steady state economy isn’t just non-growing, it’s also characterized by a high level of equality and a focus on human well being. He’s just saying our economy will become non-growing. It could very easily be a hard time for everyone, especially the poor. So it’s even more important that the other features of a steady state economy – equality and well being – are adhered to and acknowledged. For years, economic growth has been the answer to global and national poverty, and the obscene wealth of billionaire tycoons has been justified by the famous trickle down effect. If Heinberg is correct and we’re nearing the end of growth, then we need a new solution to poverty and social ills. If the cake’s not getting bigger, then for everyone to have a decent slice it has to be shared. In a post-growth world, more equality and shared wealth is the only way to solve poverty.
A small distinction:
‘Post-growth’ means any system or situation that comes after the age of economic growth, but does not refer to a recession which is just a short-term failure of a growth economy. Post-growth is a very broad term.
‘Steady state’ is more specific term referring to a so-far hypothetical post-growth economy that stays at a steady optimum size and for which the overarching goal is ‘sustainable and equitable human well being’ rather than ‘growth’. See steadystate.org for more details.
Anyway, here’s the talk. It’s an hour long but it’s really worth your time. Heinberg logically smashes assumptions and raises critical questions that are incredibly important for everyone to consider.
He also has a book on this subject, which I really want to read!